kathy geller patient story

Rethinking Life With Severe Osteoarthritis

As part of our vetting process for Arthritis by the Numbers – a collection of verified arthritis facts and figures – we invited patients to comment on the disease section that most affected their lives. After all, they are the experts on how the disease changes and challenges everyday living.

Meet Kathy Geller, who touched many lives during the years she spent as an Arthritis Foundation exercise trainer and education program presenter – a role model for successful self-management. Following, in her own words, is Kathy’s story about living with severe degenerative osteoarthritis (OA) and how the statistics she reviewed in Arthritis by the Numbers relate to her personally.

kathy gellerQuestion: What changes has your osteoarthritis made to the way you live?

Kathy: During my 18-year struggle with severe OA, I wasn’t always a Champion of Yes. Yes, I helped others battling arthritis. But inwardly, I was overwhelmed by all the “Nos” arthritis brought my way. No – I couldn’t hold my first grandchild because my hands were in casts after joint replacement. No – I had to give up my profession because I could no longer assist clients or lift the equipment necessary to train them. No – I couldn’t stay in the family home my husband and I built because it was too difficult for me after the 10-plus OA surgeries I’ve endured, most recently to fuse two-thirds of my lumbar spine.

To say the quality of my life has been affected would be an understatement. My home environment consists of one-floor living. I have every imaginable arthritis-friendly utensil, jar opener, lightweight serving dishes and more. I think twice before traveling – how far will I have to walk through the terminal, do I need to check in my bag rather than lift it into an overhead bin? I must conserve my energy and pace my day.

“Giving in” should not be confused with “giving up.” I finally accepted I am living with a chronic disease. OA is not life-threatening, but it’s insidious. It slowly chips away at your cartilage and your spirit. With the help of the Arthritis Foundation, I’ve begun to turn those “Nos” into “Yeses.” I have found my voice through the Foundation’s Ambassador program.

Question: What advice would you give to a newly-diagnosed patient or parent/caregiver?

Kathy: My advice is to make sure you are seeing the right physician. This is a relationship you will have for a long time. It’s crucial you feel a connection that enables you to open communication and develop a partnership. Find out all you can about the type of arthritis you have. Learn and practice as many self-management skills you possibly can: keeping body weight under control, staying active, exercising, pacing yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Arthritis has a significant effect on my life, but it doesn’t define me. I appreciate the quiet times not filled with surgeries, recovery and therapy. And I know I’m strong and prepared to confront the active times when OA strikes again.

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